Legacy of the Little Black Dress: Why This Piece Is So Iconic

by Nicole in Comment — Updated March 28, 2020

Trends come and go faster than ever these days — just when you finally get your hands on that new piece you’ve seen on Instagram, the Legacy of the Little Black Dress: Why This Piece Is So Iconic 7 who wore it has already moved onto the next thing. Not only does fast fashion apply to how a lot of clothing is made nowadays, but it also describes our collective attention spans when it comes to clothing.

But the little black dress (LBD for short) is one garment that’s endured for decades, remaining iconic throughout its impressive history. What is it about this piece that’s made it such a fashion staple for so many generations — both on the big screen and in real life? How has this legendary piece survived while so many other trends came and went? Let’s take a closer look.

A Brief History of the Little Black Dress

Many of us first think of Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s when we think of the LBD. Although there’s good reason Hepburn’s Givenchy dress, pearls and sunglasses have endured in our collective minds for so long, you’ll have to go back farther than that to identify the beginnings of the LBD.

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According to Marie Claire, the first LBD as we know it was published in Vogue in 1926. It was, perhaps unsurprisingly, a Coco Chanel design. And the marketing behind it leaned toward emphasizing how it was “simple and accessible to women of all classes,” likened to a Ford vehicle.Then LBDs got a bit more extravagant over the years thanks to designers like Dior and Givenchy — while maintaining their classic allure, of course.

However, The Atlantic notes that Chanel, rather than “inventing” the little black dress, “was astute enough to pick up on the underlying trend that made it popular—la pauvretéde luxe, she called it, or “luxurious poverty.” In other words, this designer borrowed the concept from the working class and made it appealing to those in the upper class who could afford to buy a seemingly simple — yet actually designer — garment.

What may have started as blue-collar attire is now arguably the go-to signifier of sophistication and class. Just think about how many celebrities have been photographed coming and going from parties in an LBD.

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The Little Black Dress Today

Today, the LBD is accessible to all who wish to wear it — and in more forms than ever before, from minimalist NYC cocktail dresses to haute couture and everything in between.

There’s simply no “wrong” way to wear the LBD, which is perhaps what makes it so appealing. The wearer can impart their own personality and sense of style onto an otherwise classic piece. Consider how Audrey Hepburn’s string of pearls contrasted against her black Givenchy dress and you get the idea.

Looking to put a modern twist on a little black dress — or dress up in an homage to the more traditional garment? Here are a couple ideas for styling an LBD like a pro:

  • Add one chunky or colorful statement accessory, like a scarf, necklace or metallic bag.
  • Layer a blazer, cardigan or shapely jacket to add visual interest.
  • Add an interesting belt to create more shape.
  • Choose an LBD with an interesting neckline in front, back or both.

Another eye-catching way to honor the little black dress is to layer on a patterned coat. Think leopard or floral. You can add an edge to your LBD with a leather jacket or moto jacket. The LBD becomes great daywear with the addition of sleek sneakers and turns into nightwear with the right pair of heels.

Bottom line? The LBD is iconic because it has limitless potential, not to mention a storied history as a designer staple.

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